Day 103 – Mrs. Flusche’s Super Basic Primer on Church Architecture (Part VII)

Saturday, June 27, 2020 –

This is going to be the last horizontal build-out for our not-so-tiny Church. Today we are peering behind the rood screen, walking past the choir (the old one!), and sneaking a peek into the sanctuary. We are not going to cover everything in a sanctuary. We are just going to plop down the big chunky-chunks. You know, the stuff like: altar, Tabernacle, baldachin, reredos, ambo or pulpit, lectern, the sedilia or presider’s chair, and the altar rail.

Main / High Altar: this used to be the same thing—one altar up against the East wall. However, with Vatican II and advent of the Novus Ordo, the “main” altar became detached from the wall and moved to the center of the sanctuary. The “high” altar is now where the tabernacle **should** be, centered against the East wall behind the main altar.

Regardless of the setup, the altar is where the Sacrifice of the Mass takes place. It is where the Priest says the Words of Consecration. The altar should be the center, the focal point, of a sanctuary. To be frank, the tabernacle **should** be part of the altar and part of the focal point. This is why the older setup made a bit more sense: the altar is where the Eucharist is confected by the Priest, and the tabernacle is where the same Eucharist is reserved (kept).

The sanctuary of Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal, Canada

Tabernacle: the tabernacle is where the Eucharist is reserved (kept). Sometimes a Priest will need to visit a sick or home-bound person who wishes to receive the Eucharist. We keep some of the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle for this purpose.

Likewise, since there is no Mass on Good Friday, the Priest will Consecrate enough to last through the Passion of the Lord (Good Friday). “The tabernacle should be entirely empty; but a sufficient amount of bread should be consecrated in this Mass for the Communion of the clergy and the people on this and the following day.” (Roman Missal, Thursday of the Lord’s Supper, Mass at the Evening, #5, p. 299)

The baldachin from the minor Basilica: Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde et St-Jacques-le-Majeur

As I stated under the section about the altar, the tabernacle is supposed to be the focal point (along with the altar) of the sanctuary. Unfortunately, many modern Churches have put the tabernacle off to the side or even in a separate room!

Baldachin: this is a sort of little canopy (roof) above the altar held up by four large, ornate posts. Many Churches today do not have a baldachin.

The reredos of St. Patrick Basilica in Montreal, Canada

Reredos: usually a very ornately decorated back wall behind the altar. It usually has religious images or niches for statues of saints.

Ambo / Pulpit: this is where the Priest would give his homily. Today, in the Traditional Latin Mass, this is also where the Priest would re-read the epistle and Gospel in the vernacular (your language). However, he used to do the readings in vernacular from the lectern, then go to the ambo / pulpit for his homily.

The ambo / pulpit previously was a large, separate platform with ornate decorations located more in the center of a Church. This was because there were not fancy things like microphones, so the Priest would need to be more in the center of the Church in order to be heard. Now, the ambo / pulpit is located within the sanctuary, typically on the “North” side.

The ambo / pulpit from St. Patrick Basilica in Montreal, Canada

Lectern: right, this is one of those confusing ones that changed over time. As stated above, the lectern **used** to be where the Priest (rather, the Deacon) would read the lesson from Scripture. However, now we have moved that to the ambo / pulpit.

Some Churches, like ours, still have a lectern. But, well, we use it to read announcements at the end of Mass. Are we using it correctly? Who knows!? But, we have one, and that is that!  

Sedilia / Presider’s Chair: sedilia is the plural for the Latin word sedile, which means seat. So, sedilia means seats. It is a group of chairs on the South side of the sanctuary for the Priest and Deacon(s) to sit.

Altar Rail: the altar rail is where the laity kneel to receive the Blessed Sacrament. It surrounds the sanctuary, and can be either just along the front or wrapped around the sides.

All-righty! Tomorrow we are going to move upward, starting with the inside of the vertical cross-section of our massive cathedral! Onward and upward! Woot!

Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of charity, have mercy on us!

Please follow and like us: